Some of the more concerning issues for Carleton Ravens coaching staff and fans eminating from last Saturday night's drubbing at the hands of Lakehead Thunderwolves in the Wilson Cup include the uncharacteristic lack of second-half scoring/generating good shots, very chubby 25 turnovers and undisciplined fouls. But maybe the most unsettling take away from arguably Carleton's worst effort in a big spot in the Dave Smart coaching era was the dwindling confidence the group showed as the game progressed. It seemed that the more success Lakehead had, the more the Ravens body language and demeanor wilted. Generally a group that shows little emotion but an underlying confidence and even swagger, Carleton player's faces displayed a look of defeat, something uncommon to this program under Smart. Getting that confidence and quiet swagger back may be Carleton's greatest challenge as they prepare for arguably the most athletic team in the Final 8 in the Concordia Stingers.
Led by QUBL co-Player-of-the-Year 6'2" Kyle Desmarais, the Stingers feature a very quick and opportunistic backcourt and wings who defensively can wreak havoc in big spots. Concordia's pressure defense has been instrumental in numerous game-deciding runs that can turn outcomes around sometimes in a matter of seconds. The Stingers overcame second half deficits in both of their QUBL playoff games with momentum-changing runs off their defense and in fact Concordia staged second-half comebacks in a remarkable 8 of their 12 regular season victories, many in the fourth quarter. In many cases, the press created several consecutive turnovers that almost instantaneously turned games around, allowing Stingers to outscore opponents by wide margins in the second half of their victories.
Desmarais, 6'2" Decee Krah and 6'4" Evens Laroche usually are the keys at the top of the press, creating bad passes, deflections and uncertainty in opponents and multiplying the turnovers to author runs like six points in the final 10 seconds against McGill to avert a possible third place finish and instead help capture the Q regular season pennant. The Stingers also had an 8-points-in-under-a minute run against UQAM in the semi-finals, all bouyed by their pressure, which ultimately can physically and mentally wear teams down.
The pressure does a good job of masking Concordia's lack of an imposing paint-area defender - something they arguably have not had since Stingers Assistant coach Ernie Rosa dared anyone to enter his lane during his fine career in the 1990's. It is when opponents get the ball below the foul line that Concordia can be had with 6'5" James Clark, more of a 3/4 playing in the paint and 6'7" Zack Brisebois, who should have a fine career but is somewhat foul prone and becoming more aware defensively deeper into his freshman season.
The Stingers rode their five starters (Desmarais, Krah, Laroche, Clark and Brisebois) during both QUBL playoff games - most played 35+ minutes with 6'7" Kafil Eyitaya spelling Brisebois for about 13 minutes each game up front. 6'1" Morgan Tajfel, 6'1" Aamir Gyles and 6'7" Taylor Garner may also get some first half action if the rotation stays as it did during the Q playdowns. 6'2" second year guard Jean-Andre Moussignac was not available in the final two league games and both playoff games and his status for the Nationals is not known. Both playoff games were played in the tight, friendly confines of Concordia's gym, the smallest in terms of dimensions in the CIS so much more conducive to pressing all night.
Expect Carleton to rotate both 6'2" Phil Scrubb and 6'5" Cole Hobin on Desmarais, who will likely be forced to his left hand more often than not, a strategy used very successfully this season by McGill Redmen, against which Desmarais averaged only 14 points per game this season, well below his average of 21.6 ppg against the rest of the league. Desmarais also turned it over 24 times (6 to's per game) against McGill - Desmarais had only 40 turnovers in 12 games against the rest of the league.
The 6'2" Krah can expect to have to shoot over either Scrubb or Hobin while the task of keeping Laroche off the offensive glass may be more challenging for the Ravens, especially in light of inconsistent defensive performances by 6'3" Elliott Thompson. The front court matchups will likely be 6'6" Tyson Hinz guarding Clark (and vice versa) and 6'8" Aaron Chapman and Brisebois matching up. Carleton is much deeper at the guard spots with 5'11" Willy Manigat and 5'10" Michael Kenny bringing starter-like quality off the bench while 6'5" Kyle Smendziuk and 6'5" Thomas Scrubb allowing Carleton four quality bigs - Ravens can go at least 9 deep with little drop off.
The game will be going Concordia's way if the Stingers remain on track to score it in the 80's - which could happen if they can turn the Ravens over and/or if they make shots - Krah is Concordia's only real, consistent three point threat although the streaky Desmarais can also carry Concordia from downtown. The ability of Clark to score with his back-to-the-basket - teams rarely double down on him during the regular season - will also dictate how well the Stingers do offensively in the quarter court when transition is not there.
Carleton must deal with the pressure and - like the Laurier Golden Hawks did to the Ravens - make the Stingers pay quickly for pressing. Converting defensively is also important, but most important is to get their confidence back scoring the ball. Expect Carleton to run more patterned sets rather than try to take advantage of one-on-one matchups, something they sort of fell in love with this past weekend.
Prediction: Carleton 87, Concordia 69